The conflict between Hamas and Israel is having a "devastating and lasting impact" on children, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said on Thursday, stressing that the recent crisis would have long-term psychological effects on youth.
"This impact extends from a large number of deaths and injuries in Gaza to deep trauma and other psychological effects on children on both sides of the border," the Committee said, warning that "these experiences may affect them for many years to come, including into adulthood."
While the Committee welcomed the ceasefire announced on Wednesday after a week of bloodshed in Gaza and southern Israel, it urged all parties to abide by their international obligation to ensure the protection of children.
A total of 158 Palestinians, including women and children, and six Israelis, including two soldiers, were killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the eight-day-long wave of violence - rocket attacks from Gaza militants, and retaliatory air strikes by Israel on Gaza. It also displaced 10,000 people in the coastal strip, which is home to 1.7 million Palestinians, according to the U.N. team in Gaza.
The violence claimed the lives of at least 26 children, and more than 400 were injured, some gravely, by Israeli attacks on Gaza, while Hamas shellfire into southern Israel wounded 14 children, the Committee said.
"Over the past week, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian and Israeli children have lived under the terror of explosions caused by rocket attacks or air strikes and shelling," the Committee said, adding that over the past few days, children were reported to be displaying signs of stress, including excessive crying, bed-wetting, and screaming during the frequent explosions.
"Many other children in Gaza have lost parents or other loved ones, and are left deeply traumatized," the panel added.
The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) also drew attention to the fact that many children had been forced to sleep in the cold in Gaza, because their windows had been shattered by explosions, or because they had kept the windows open, to avoid injury from shards of glass. In southern Israel, children also lived in fear and were forced to go into bomb shelters or to seek shelter in other parts of the country.
"Destruction of homes and damage to schools, streets and other public facilities gravely affect children and deprive them of their basic rights," the Committee said. It reminded that "the recent air and naval strikes on densely populated areas in Gaza with significant presence of children constitute gross violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and international humanitarian law."
Meanwhile, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) announced that its 245 schools would be opening on Saturday, resuming classes for 225,000 children. The schools were used during the crisis to shelter some 10,000 displaced people who have now returned to their homes following the ceasefire.
UNRWA, which currently has a counselor in most of its schools, will additionally step up its psycho-social support in the wake of the fighting, offering increased services to traumatized children.
During the latest round of fighting, UNRWA was able to maintain health care in 19 centers, food distribution to 800,000 refugees, and the provision of essential sanitation services. The agency also donated $400,000 worth of medication and medical supplies from its stock to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist health centers across Gaza, where there has been a shortage of medical resources.
"The vast majority of UNRWA's primary healthcare centers have remained open throughout the fighting, but even before this recent escalation, there were significant shortages of medicines and supplies for Gaza's hospitals," said Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza Robert Turner.
by RTT Staff Writer
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